Thoughts on the GSD Venice Workshop: Agent-Based Modeling for Sustainable Development

The first day of the workshop was largely dedicated to discussion of the main variables and determinants of the multi-agent models. In particular, it was emphasised that it is very difficult to take into account the learning curve of each agent and their corresponding behaviour, which results from such an iterative learning process.

Some experts emphasised (in particular those who develop programming code for such models) that it is difficult even to define “agent”.

The second day was largely dedicated to presenting examples of multi-agent models and explaining their key assumptions and limitations.

The third day was the most interesting for me. Dr John Finnigan, Director of the CSIRO Centre for Complex Systems Science, Canberra, Australia, delivered one of the best talks. He presented a systems’ view on key problems and drivers in our society. In particular, he linked key social, economic and environmental problems with demographic factors and climate change. Though, most of these interconnections are known to scientists and policy-makers, presenting such an integrated view was of particular interest and had a profound impact on the workshop’s participants.

Another talk, which presented particularly interesting examples on climate change implications for business, was given by Prof. Peter Hoeppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

There are major challenges in defining not only key factors to be included in multi-agent models, but also in defining key agents themselves. These are the major challenges that need to be overcome to allow successful applications of multi-agents models for sustainable development.

There was little discussion on why this kind of model is better than other instruments in order to identify policy options for sustainable development and/or to decision-making process.

As for me, this workshop helped to understand key characteristics of multi-agent models. So far my research has been based mostly on systems’ approach for environmental policy-making. I am interested to learn more about agent-based models’ applications for my field.

At the immediate practical level, the workshop helped in two areas. First, I have an on-going research collaboration with Julian Hunt and Steven Bishop, and this workshop helped me to get better understanding of some of their research interests and projects. In particular, I have some inputs and new thoughts for the paper that we are working on at the moment. Second, the third day of the workshop allowed me to get a more integrated view on interlinks on business, food, growing population and climate change. I have already started to use some of these ideas in my immediate research (in collaboration with Julian Hunt) on sustainable water management and climate change policies in Ghana and Uganda.

Yulia Timoshkina
Cambridge University, UK

The GSD Venice Workshop: Agent-Based Modeling for Sustainable Development, took place from 2-4 April 2009. Full details of the workshop agenda and downloadable documents are available here.